I Don’t Know Quite What To Say About August

Thanks for reading Fluco Blog! I’m Perrie Johnson, Fork Union’s representative to the Fluvanna County School Board. My goal with Fluco Blog is to let people know what’s going on at School Board meetings beyond the reports available online. Be forewarned, when it comes to discussion, most of the comments I remember turn out to be mine! Here’s the latest…

Before I get to August, I’ll throw in a little about the July 31st School Board seminar focusing on testing and the 2019 line item budget.

After listening to all of the information provided to satisfy the Board that we don’t test too much in Fluvanna, it struck me again, that there was no formal input included from teachers, students, or parents.  I understand the administration’s point of view about testing, but I think other opinions are well worth considering.

I remain concerned about the amount of testing we have in Fluvanna.  I’m also concerned about the inconsistent use of the Measures of Academic Progress test (MAP).  Only in grades K-7 do we use  MAP scores as an important part of the classroom teacher’s evaluation.  We don’t use MAP at the high school.  Instead, teachers there are evaluated by student growth as demonstrated on classroom based assessments. This means the high school teacher is evaluated by a test covering pretty much only what was taught in his/ her class.  MAP tests, however, run through a gamut of skills sometimes very indirectly connected to classroom instruction. I commented (of course I did) that the high school tests made perfect sense to me and I’d love to see classroom based assessments replace MAP at the lower grades.

I hope the testing discussion is not over among Board members.  I’m pretty sure it’s not just me.

After discussing testing at the seminar, we spent the last hours actually running down the 2019 line item budget with rulers, addressing every item.  This doesn’t include every purchase, program, and position but we’re trying to work our way through many of these as we examine monthly reports.

Now on to the August meeting, which ended on a note that was anything but boring, for me anyway.  I’ll make that a tease to try and get you to read to the end. This is a really long post. Sorry.

The evening began with a public comment.  (Finally!)  A community member told us she was there to live stream the meeting for people who wanted to listen in from home.  I think she was one of only two community members able to come, so her point was well taken (by me).

We had the big talk, again, about the unpaid lunch charge debt.  I brought a lot of research about the great cheese sandwich debate, which I actually didn’t share with the Board because it was obvious early on that this wasn’t going to fly, and I understand why, but since I did all that research, I will pass on to you that according to information provided by the Virginia School Boards Association, quite a number of Virginia school divisions use this plan and some swear by its effect on keeping debt low.  I did share other information from VSBA about the debt collection route and about several divisions who refer families to Social Services for neglect.

We looked at many alternatives but almost all penalized the student in some way. In the end, the Board decided to first improve our efforts to communicate debt to parents, but also set some limit to the individual unpaid lunch charges we would absorb before involving an outside agency for collection.  My objective is to prevent the debt in the first place (and we’ve gotten a number of unexpected checks paying off accounts since we’ve had some publicity about debt collection). As for cost, I consider any amount we recoup better than the zero we would have if we continue without collection.

There’s a report online called the Per Pupil Cost Update that teachers might especially want to see.  It tells how much of the approximately $1600 per classroom received by each school is released directly to teachers for instructional purchases.  It includes a comparison to last year.  My comment was that my goal is to get as much money as close to the classroom as possible.  I think the more we allow teachers to make these purchasing decisions themselves, the more directly it affects our students.

There’s no report for this one, but the superintendent addressed discipline concerns spelled out in the comment section of the last staff survey.  More comments were about discipline than any other single subject.  I was glad to have this conversation because (I said) I think it’s important that something of such great concern to our staff is acknowledged and addressed by the School Board.

Our last item of new business was a motion put forward by Ms. Stewart to inform staff that the message from the chair (me) on opening day was not spoken on behalf of the Board, and directing the superintendent to share with staff the mission, beliefs, and priorities previously approved by the Board.  Ms. Pace seconded the motion, though she wasn’t there to hear what I said on opening day.   I caught my breath and related the gist of my remarks at that event (a staff event, not a public event) where I thanked everyone for working with our kids and thanked them for choosing Fluvanna.  I referenced my history of working for Fluvanna and how it was my inspiration for getting elected to the School Board to make some changes.  I thought then and I still think it gave more meaning to my thank you.

The vote on this motion came out 2-2 (we had a member unable to attend that night) so we’re supposed to vote again in Sept. Oh joy.

Belive it or not that wasn’t the end of the meeting.  We had one more tie vote, this one on the policy setting the teacher probationary period.  A few years ago Fluvanna changed it from 3 years to 5, and two Board members (me again) now want to change it back.  Two members do not.  You probably know from a previous post that four administrators told the Board recently that 3 years was probably enough to determine who was a good teacher,  This makes me think there is no reason to underserve students two additional years before making a decision to let a substandard teacher go.

So that 2-2 vote also gets repeated in September when all five Board members are present.  I used to like September.

 

If you’d like to keep up with Fluco Blog, click the FOLLOW button near the very bottom right corner and enter your email address. It’s private and completely free. If you want to comment on a post, click Comment or Reply. You’ll be asked to provide a name and an email address. If something hits too close to home and you want to be anonymous, DON’T GIVE YOUR REAL NAME ANYWHERE. Make something up. Do give your real email address, which will NOT show up with your comment. You might also be asked for a website, which is weird and not required. Your information is not sold or leased to anyone.

This blog is a personal blog, written and edited by me.  The views expressed in this blog are purely my own and do not represent the Fluvanna County School Board, the school superintendent, or anyone else. Comments added by others are not necessarily my opinions and I am not responsible for their content.

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Budget (of course) and Discipline

Thanks for reading Fluco Blog.  I’m Perrie Johnson, Fork Union’s representative to the Fluvanna County School Board.  My goal with Fluco Blog is to let people know what’s going on at School Board meetings beyond the reports available online.  Be forewarned, when it comes to discussion, most of the comments I remember turn out to be mine!  Here’s the latest…

The Nov 8 meeting started with the usual tasks of closed session, but then came the unusual task of deciding on an evaluation instrument for our new superintendent.  We have all kinds of leeway with how this is done, except, like teachers, a large component has to be based on student performance.  I get nervous about passing on something I shouldn’t when it comes to closed session, so I’ll check on whether the final instrument is public information before I share any more.

Once the open meeting got underway, in addition to the regular invitation for public comments (which we almost never get) we held the first public hearing on the 2019 budget.  That pulled in one speaker, the president of the Fluvanna Education Association, Nancy King.  She asked the Board to consider increasing salaries, citing the obviously positive effect that would have on morale.  Then she elaborated on a desire for increased morale in Fluvanna, referencing a decrease in trust and teacher autonomy during recent years.  Ms. King also asked the Board to reinstate a staggered start for kindergartners (during the first 2 days of school in August, half of new kindergartners would come the first day and half would come the second day) to acclimate these students in smaller groups.  Full disclosure alert: I’ve brought this up in a previous meeting suggesting the revenue we would lose because of 2 days of reduced attendance might be worth the penalty.

Reports from the meeting included one about discipline, particularly in-school and out-of-school suspensions.  We were all concerned about the disproportionate representation of certain subgroups, of course, but I also spoke to information recently shared by the Virginia School Boards’ Association about a 5% drop in suspension rates in Va. Beach accompanied by nearly double the number of teachers reporting the schools did not provide a safe and orderly place to learn.  According to the article, teachers felt discipline reform put pressure on them to not to refer students, so standards were lowered and students became even more comfortable acting inappropriately.  (Virginian-Pilot Online, Oct 5,2017 by Mike Connors)

With another report, the discussion of what to do about money left over from last year continued.  The carryover automatically goes to the Board of Supervisors, but we can request some or all of it back.  When the School Board last talked about this, we agreed to ask for about half the money, and incorporated in that half, it was originally proposed we designate more money toward the purchase of 6 computer carts than toward compensation adjustments for the 120 teachers on Scale B. I was concerned about the message that sent to staff and the Board agreed to increase the amount for compensation.  When it came to a vote at Wednesday’s meeting, however, the technology number had overtaken compensation again by adding funds from an unexpected technology rebate to that category.  While this made sense to me, I still objected to the reversal of our original message and wanted to apply the rebate to salaries.  Mr. Rittenhouse also voted against the action, wanting to return the rebate to the Board of Supervisors.  The motion passed though, 3-2.

The only other vote involved some policy changes defining drugs and weapons, and clarifying the timeline for discipline appeals.

The subject of the recent election came up at the very end of the meeting, with appreciation expressed for the service of departing members and congratulations extended to Mr. Rittenhouse, Mr. Pullen, and Ms. Stewart, whose new terms begin in January.

Thanks again for reading Fluco Blog!  Happy Thanksgiving!

 

If you’d like to keep up with Fluco Blog, click the FOLLOW button near the very bottom right corner and enter your email address.  It’s private and completely free.  If you want to comment on a post, click Comment or Reply.  You’ll be asked to provide a name and email address.  If something hits too close to home and you want to be anonymous, DON’T GIVE YOUR REAL NAME ANYWHERE.  Make something up.  Do give your real email address, which will NOT show up with your comment.  You might also be asked for a website, which is weird and not required. Your information is not leased or sold to anyone. 

 

This blog is a personal blog written and edited by me.  The views expressed in this blog are purely my own and do not represent the Fluvanna County School Board, the school superintendent, or anyone else. Comments added by others are not necessarily my opinions and I am not responsible for their content.

Morning Meeting #2

Thanks for reading Fluco Blog.  I’m Perrie Johnson, Fork Union’s representative to the Fluvanna County School Board.  My goal with Fluco Blog is to let people know what’s going on at School Board meetings beyond the reports available online.  Be forewarned, when it comes to discussion, most of the comments I remember turn out to be mine!  Here’s the latest…

No votes were taken during July’s morning meeting #2.  We discussed common School Board priorities and certain priorities specific to each Board member.  Generally, Ms. Pace addressed the importance of meeting the emotional needs of children; Ms. Carr wants to strengthen technology, vocational education, and the gifted program; Mr. Rittenhouse wants to make sure our funds directly support students and quality staff; and I want teachers more extensively involved in decision making.  (Teachers know their students and know their content, and I think we can improve instruction, discipline, assessment, budgeting -almost everything- by soliciting more input from the professionals who address all of these every day.)

There’s a long but pretty interesting report online with data about test scores.  With Advanced Placement (AP) exams, 40% more students tested than last year, but our pass rate doesn’t look great compared to the state average.  SOL scores are generally down, but all schools are still accredited.  SAT statistics put us in line with the percentage of students who take the tests statewide -at 54%- and a little above the state average score in reading and math.  There’s also a lot of information about Career and Technical Education (CTE) credentialing pass rates, which I need to talk over with an administrator before I spout out about (hehe) possibly incorrect conclusions here.

We heard some numbers I’m not sure made it online, about student discipline and teacher (maybe staff) attendance.  To address discipline concerns the administration is considering expanding the PBIS program (Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports) from the elementary schools to middle and high school.  Concerning attendance, student att’d is going down but still at about 95%.  A real eye-opener (for me) were statistics on teacher attendance.  Missing more than 10 days/yr is defined as chronically absent by the state, and the Board was told that 30%-40% of our teachers are chronically absent.  The national average, according to the U.S. Dept. of Education, was 27% last year.  Mr. Winkler doesn’t assume a problem with Fluvanna’s numbers, but will explore the issue.

We can’t have a meeting without talking budget, and salary comparisons are available among the online reports to start discussions for 2018-19.  After seeing some of the administrative comparisons, I commented to the Board that while teachers’ experience generally equates to steps on the scale, our administrator scales carry the footnote that ‘experience may not necessarily equate to steps’.  And, in fact, many of our administrators are contracted at a much higher rate than their steps would indicate by experience.  I brought it up because, in my opinion, this situation makes comparing our administrative steps to others unreliable.

Finally, on another (short) note… a word about new staff for 2017-18.  So far we’ve welcomed almost 40 new members.  Of the new teachers, the three largest categories by instruction are special education (7), math (6), and CTE (Career and Tech Ed-3).

No more morning meetings in the foreseeable future, but you can join us at 6:30 on Wed, August 9 (or just look for my next post at some undetermined time after that).  Thanks again for reading!

 

If you’d like to keep up with Fluco Blog, click the FOLLOW button near the very bottom right corner and enter your email address.  It’s private and completely free.  If you want to comment on a post, click Comment or Reply.  You’ll be asked to provide a name and email address.  If something hits too close to home and you want to be anonymous, DON’T GIVE YOUR REAL NAME ANYWHERE.  Make something up.  Do give your real email address, which will NOT show up with your comment.  You might also be asked for a website, which is weird and not required. Your information is not leased or sold to anyone. 

 

This blog is a personal blog written and edited by me.  The views expressed in this blog are purely my own and do not represent the Fluvanna County School Board, the school superintendent, or anyone else. Comments added by others are not necessarily my opinions and I am not responsible for their content.

 

Morning Meeting #1

Thanks for reading Fluco Blog.  I’m Perrie Johnson, Fork Union’s representative to the Fluvanna County School Board.  My goal with Fluco Blog is to let people know what’s going on at School Board meetings beyond the reports available online.  Be forewarned, when it comes to discussion, most of the comments I remember turn out to be mine!  Here’s the latest…

Wednesday the 12th was the first of two morning meetings for July.  It’s not too late to make the next one, July 26th at 9:30 (insert laughing emoji).

Looking at what’s new for the 2017-18 budget, there was some discussion about per pupil funding allocated to each school.  This amount is going up from $61 to $70 per student, but Mr. Rittenhouse commented that teachers tell him they don’t have enough money for classroom supplies.  The response from administration was that teachers generally get what they ask for, and the specific total of $250 per teacher came up more than once.  I pointed out that $250 is only $10 per pupil, a fraction of the total allocation, and gave my opinion that teachers don’t ask for more because they’ve been told no for years.  I suggested if we want to change that notion, communication is essential.  The superintendent proposed a follow-up report from principals on future CLASSROOM allocations.

Also applicable to the new school year’s budget was a vote on personnel, which I objected to only because it included one teaching contract for 10.5 months, over the usual 10 mos.  I emphasized that it’s not that any teacher doesn’t deserve extra pay for extra time, but most teachers already put in plenty of extra time, and only get paid for 10 mos.  I’m concerned about the inequity of only certain teaching positions being extended to 10.5 mo. contracts and beyond.  I was told that this particular position had just been reduced from a 12 mo. contract (making me wonder why it was 12 in the first place, and highlighting the inequity of the situation, I thought).

Of the next four votes, I only objected to one more, the excused absence policy I questioned in my last post. I still find it very unclear as to whether an excused absence is defined by the school system or by the parent.

Near the end of the meeting, I got on my soapbox about discipline, having been inspired by observations of the Board Chair, Ms. Carr, about the number of comments on the staff survey regarding student discipline. I took another look at the comments and compared them to last year.

In May 2016, salary was the most often suggested “area of focus” with discipline coming in second.  In 2017, the two switched positions, though salary had almost exactly the same number of comments as 2016, the number of discipline comments shot up by 60% to overtake even salary as our staff’s main concern (as suggested by their comments).  The superintendent brought up discipline numbers which are tracked and reported (lower numbers implying fewer incidents) but I suggested lower numbers might just mean fewer reports, with too many incidents going unreported, and higher numbers might actually indicate better discipline.  It’s a complicated issue, but obviously important to our staff.

I want to be clever but all I can think to leave you with is that old chestnut (because yes, I’m 100) :

Stay tuned for Morning Meeting #2!

 

If you’d like to keep up with Fluco Blog, click the FOLLOW button near the very bottom right corner and enter your email address.  It’s private and completely free.  If you want to comment on a post, click Comment or Reply.  You’ll be asked to provide a name and email address.  If something hits too close to home and you want to be anonymous, DON’T GIVE YOUR REAL NAME ANYWHERE.  Make something up.  Do give your real email address, which will NOT show up with your comment.  You might also be asked for a website, which is weird and not required. Your information is not leased or sold to anyone. 

This blog is a personal blog written and edited by me.  The views expressed in this blog are purely my own and do not represent the Fluvanna County School Board, the school superintendent, or anyone else. Comments added by others are not necessarily my opinions and I am not responsible for their content.